Sara Sorribes Tormo on long matches, David Ferrer & Naomi Osaka thrashing

Sara Sorribes Tormo spoke to (Picture: WTA)

Sara Sorribes Tormo is earning herself a reputation as one of the fiercest grinders on the tennis tour.

She has been been the winner of two of the three longest WTA Tour matches of the season to date and has played four matches lasting over three hours.

The longest of those, a three-hours-and-51-minutes tussle with Camila Giorgi in Rome, was the sixth-longest WTA Tour match in the Open Era.

One might expect that a tough, steely competitor who is willing to push her body to the limits on court to win, would display some of those qualities in regular life but when we chat from Madrid and London via Zoom, Sorribes Tormo is charming, polite and far from her fighting – and noisy-grunting! – professional exterior.

There’s an infectious enthusiasm about the world No. 49 from Spain who, by her own admission, struggles to sit still.

‘I don’t like to rest,’ she smiles. ‘I like doing something all the time. I also really like to practice and go to the gym and stay on court so it’s difficult for me to stop.

‘When I lose, I like to work more. When I lose in the morning, I like to go to the gym in the afternoon, change everything, start sweating again and feel that something different is coming.

‘I’m trying to learn that this is not the best way, you also have to relax and rest and that’s what I don’t do really good. My two coaches and my fitness coach – they are telling me off all the time.’

Sorribes Tormo will be involved at the French Open (Picture: Getty)

She brands her gritty, determined style of play as ‘very Spanish’ and feels a sense of calm is proving key to her victories in super-long matches.

‘It’s not something I try to do,’ she says. ‘It’s just something that’s coming. I’m not hitting super hard and I’m not making winners easily. I’m just trying to be aggressive but with my style of game.

‘The point is when it goes like this [to really long matches], I feel the same, I don’t think, “Oh the point is getting long”, I just feel the same. And I think that’s why maybe I’m winning more points there because I don’t change anything, I’m just playing normal.’

As a Spaniard growing up in the generation behind Rafael Nadal, one might expect the 20-time Grand Slam champion to be her idol, however, a meeting with David Ferrer as a 14-year-old convinced her to follow the career of the now-retired former world No. 3.

‘I saw he was totally normal, he was super kind with me, he always had good words,’ she smiles. ‘Even if he was on the court next to me, that day changed for me, the day I met him I thought “Now it’s you, for sure”.

‘One of the things I always remember is, “You have to always concentrate”, that’s something he was always telling me. I always remember.’

The similarities between their gamestyles are there for all to see, but does Sorribes Tormo think they’re cut from the same cloth?

‘Hopefully,’ she laughs after a long pause. ‘Would be amazing. I try to be in many things the same as him. I’m trying. I just try. I don’t know if I can do it but I just try.

‘The way he works, the way he stays on court. He goes all the time like in his kind of game but he goes for the point. He was super fast, he was super good physically. I try to do that.’

Sport runs in her family. She was first taught tennis by her mother in la Vall d’Uixo – a small Spanish town near Valencia, while her father played football for Club Deportivo Castellon in Spain’s second division.

Sara Sorribes Tormo

Age: 24
Nationality: Spanish
Current ranking: 49
Career-high ranking: 46
Singles title: 1
Best Slam performance: Round 2 (all Slams)

‘It’s good to have them because they know sports, they are very calm with me, they are not putting pressure on me,’ she says. ‘I’m super close with them. Here they watch all of my matches, at 4am, 5am.’

Her mother travelled to Mexico in March to watch Sorribes Tormo’s first and only title win to date in Guadalajara. Prior to the event, she had won just two of her 12 previous tour-level quarter-finals and had failed to win either of her two semi-finals.

That semi-final duck was broken with a win over one of her best friends on tour, Marie Bouzkova, before Eugenie Bouchard – a former Wimbledon runner-up – was beaten in the final.

The ‘amazing’ week will live long in her memory and was the peak of her best season to date, which has included two further semi-finals and a quarter-final at the WTA1000-level Miami Open.

Her form has dipped since the clay-court season arrived – despite it being her strongest surface – and cramp forced her to retire in her last match before the French Open, which starts on Sunday, against Sara Errani in Parma.

Sorribes Tormo is confident she’s on the right path (Picture: WTA)

Few would tip her to win Roland Garros having never been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam and arriving with only two wins in six matches on the dirt, but Sorribes Tormo is focused on a wider philosophy rather than the title.

‘I get up every day trying to improve,’ she says. ‘I go to sleep thinking, “Oh, I improved that today” or “I learned that today”.

‘Of course, you play tennis to achieve many things, to be No. 1 or win a Grand Slam but for me it’s kind of more small things, kind of every day be happy on court, enjoy practising, enjoy working – that’s what makes me more happy than winning a few matches.’

Competition, of course, will be fierce for anyone hoping to win a Grand Slam in this strong era in women’s tennis. The likes of Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu, Coco Gauff, Ash Barty and Sofia Kenin are all expected to compete for multiple majors.

‘The level is going up a lot. A lot,’ says Sorribes Tormo. ‘Everyone is playing super good. When you were saying these players, I was thinking maybe of 20 more.

‘We have a lot, which I think is super good for tennis and for spectators as well. This is a really good generation.’

But Sorribes Tormo has already proven she’s capable of an upset.

Osaka, who has won four of the last nine Grand Slams, found this out the hard way when thrashed 6-0 6-3 by the Spaniard in a Fed Cup – the international women’s team competition that has since been renamed the Billie Jean King Cup – qualifier.

The result saw the Japanese world No. 1 – the best paid female athlete in sport – leave the court in tears in what was her final match before the coronavirus pandemic forced the tour into a grinding halt.

When she returned, Osaka reeled off 24 match wins in a row, winning second US and Australian Open titles en route.

Osaka was down after her defeat to Sorribes Tormo (Picture: MB Media/Getty)

‘I think, for sure, it made her improve a lot,’ Sorribes Tormo reflects. ‘She stopped and she said, “I made many things bad” and she’s super good so she learned about everything.

‘For me, it was one of the most exciting days of my life, for sure. All my family was there, friends. I was playing for Spain and I was super, super happy.

‘I think I played smart that day. I played a lot with the slice. We were playing on clay, which I really like to play and she doesn’t like a lot. I played smart. I managed my emotions really good because I was very emotional at the beginning but I had to play a match. I tried to be calm and that day it worked really good for me.’

Competing on a consistent basis with Osaka and the other stars of the sport is the ultimate goal.

‘It’s an exciting challenge,’ she smiles. ‘For sure, when something is difficult I think it’s more challenging.

‘That’s what I would like to but I would have to do things really really and I know it. I’m just trying to do those things every single day and in every single moment. After that, let’s see what’s my level, let’s see what’s my ranking but that’s something that just my level will say.’

Like many of her matches this year, one expects it could be a long, hard-fought slog. But write off Sara Sorribes Tormo at your peril.

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